Mamoru Hosoda Month-The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

I’m assuming you’re caught up, right? If not, click here for my mission statement.

Anyway, onto the review!

My relationship with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time goes back to the days of ScrewAttack Version 4. I’d recently become a die-hard anime fan, and I was seeing which directors tickled my fancy. Some, like Mamoru Oshii, bored me to no end with Ghost in the Shell, while others, like Satoshi Kon, I respected, yet never got the appeal of. No director grabbed me quite like Hayao Miyazaki did, leading me to wonder if my excitement was doomed to backfire. That changed when I discovered this film.

It was pure chance that I found it, having seen a review of another movie by Mamoru Hosoda from a fellow g1 who’s now a contributor at Infinite Rainy Day. The premise intrigued me, so I looked it up on Rotten Tomatoes for further info. Once there, I was surprised to see that Hosoda had not only worked on the Digimon franchise, but also had two films under his belt. Deciding to go chronologically, I picked The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, found it in 8 parts on YouTube and gave it a go. I haven’t looked back.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is the story of 17 year-old Makoto Konno. Makoto’s a brash tomboy who struggles with schoolwork, is lazy and has a bit of a selfish streak. Normally, her quirks aren’t that big a deal, but on one particular day everything goes wrong. After waking up late for school, she arrives to a pop quiz that she wasn’t prepared for. She then messes up in cooking class, nearly causing a fire, slips while carrying the test papers to be marked and is the unwanted victim of a prank gone wrong. All of this culminates in her bike brakes jamming on the way to deliver peaches to her aunt, causing her to slam into an oncoming train and die…

…Or so she thought. It turns out that she’d acquired the ability to time travel to a few minutes before the crash, which freaks her out. It isn’t until her conversation with her aunt that she realizes this sort of experience “isn’t new”, and that she’s actually “time leapt”. After fooling around with her newfound ability, she gains the confidence to change her life for what she considers the better. It isn’t long before she realizes that maybe her time leaping skills are causing more harm than good, hence she tries to fix that too. Ultimately, Makoto accepts the reality that is making mistakes, being something to learn from and not try to correct.

Right off the bat, the most-striking aspect of this film is its design. Despite being modest compared to future works, complete with reused footage, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time has realistic backdrops that compliment Yoshiyuki Sadamoto’s subdued character designs. Additionally, the fluidity of character movement is constantly staticky, as no two characters behave the same way when completely solitary. It’s this attention to detail that makes Hosoda unique, especially when juxtaposed with his incredible restraint from his in-film camera movements. In a word, the movie looks beautiful.

Musically, the film features quiet, piano-like ballads and soft-tune orchestrations, courtesy of composer Kiyoshi Yoshida. The tunes mostly serve as ambience, but every now and then a big, sentimental piece will compliment a sad moment. It works quite well. The film also has two lyrical ballads, both sung by Japanese singer Hanaka Oku. The former, "Kawaranai Mono”, underscores the film’s big climactic moment, while the latter, “Garnet” comes in during the credits to help recap the film. The score isn’t something I’d listen to routinely, but it’s not half-bad in-film.

The voice acting is fantastic. I can’t say much about the Japanese, although what I’ve heard sounds good, but the dub, helmed by Vancouver’s Ocean Productions, has one of the best teenage dub performances I’ve ever heard from then teenage actress Emily Hirst. Hirst gives it everything as Makoto, right down to her crying scenes (which, by the way, feel authentic.) Dub fans of Canadian voice actors will also recognize Andrew Francis, one of the many voices of Megaman, as Chiaki, in what’s, arguably, one of his best. Overall, it’s a solid dub.

Speaking of which, I love the characters. I remember seeing a video review of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time that stated that the background characters were virtually non-existent, and I couldn’t disagree more. I think they’re much so existent, such that the film wouldn’t have worked without them. Everyone from Makoto’s closest friends, Chiaki and Kōsuke, to minor characters like Takase and Kaho, are all wonderfully-realized. And, of course, let’s not Makoto. Brash, selfish and short-sighted, she’s one of the more-relatable characters I’ve seen in a coming of age story.

And that’s really what The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is: a coming of age story about owning up to your actions. Far too often in life, we feel regret about our mistakes and want desperately to change them. This film plays to that and flips it on its head, suggesting that changing the past isn’t the best idea. It’s important to make mistakes, necessary even, as it teaches us what not to repeat. This is played out so innocently, both for humour and drama, that it really drives the point home. Besides, anything to have Makoto’s aunt, who frequently acts as the voice of reason, feel like a real person!

All of this having been said, there are little details that hold it back from absolute greatness. For one, the animation, while mostly fluid and realistic, occasionally falls victim to Manga Iconography. Manga Iconography is when characters make Manga-style facial expressions that are meant to “elicit laughs from the audience”. This level of cartoony expressionism, however, is distracting, really ugly and completely breaks the flow. It’s something Mamoru Hosoda’s works would eventually ditch, but for now it sticks out like a sore thumb.

The movie also tries its hand at being artsy, to mixed results. Sometimes, like in the time travel sequences, it looks beautiful, with moments that resemble oil paintings and hard sci-fi. But then there’s a weird scene where Makoto runs to keep up with a pan-shot. I know it’s supposed to speak volumes about her stubbornness, but I find it distracting. There are other ways, I’m sure, to get the message across.

Finally, the movie has a tendency to go full-out soap opera. Usually it leads to humorous moments, mostly involving the bizarre ways Makoto makes situations worse, but every-so-often it feels like we’ve entered cheesy rom-com territory. This is especially apparent in how The Girl Who Leapt Through Time hits all the traditional notes of a romantic comedy, particularly once Makoto starts developing feelings for one of her friends. It eventually hits hard, throwing everything you learn prior off-kilter, but in the immediate it feels…schmaltzy. I could’ve either done without it, or done with it better-executed.

But I digress. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time isn’t a perfect film, but it makes the best of a premise based on a simple book. Fans of anime can get behind the animation. Fans of science-fiction can get behind the time travel. Fans of rom-coms can get behind the romance and silly humour. And, above all, fans of film in general can get behind this incredibly well-written, 99-minute story. I give it a…

Join me next time as I dive into the world of technology and the internet with Summer Wars. I’ll see you then!


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